He has restored the values that first brought distinction and glory to Ajax, but progress in Europe has still to move beyond the return of some respectability. Like Celtic, the relationship to the European Cup is central to so much of Ajax's identity, but the landscape has changed since the trophy was once within reach, and the elite tier has left both clubs behind.
That does not inhibit De Boer. He was not prepared to be cautious or circumspect when he succeeded Martin Jol as the manager of the club he grew up supporting and where he first established himself as an exquisite defender possessed of power and grace. De Boer's first match in charge was against AC Milan in the San Siro. He dropped the top scorer, Mounir El Hamdaoui, brought in Siem de Jong, a player who had graduated from the club's youth academy, and won 2-0.
The victory, in all of its details, was typical of De Boer. He is a perfectionist and an idealist in that he considered his role at Ajax to be about developing the club, imposing upon it his values and the principles by which he believes the game should be played. That means attacking, possession-based football, encouraging players to be bold and take risks as long as they adhere to the overall tactical plan, and to encourage again the notion of Ajax as a club that primarily develops its own players.
That Champions League campaign was already lost when he took over, and the competition still remains central to what De Boer wants to achieve. He is only the third Ajax manager to win three consecutive titles, after Rinus Michels and Louis van Gaal, whose legacy has been a burden to many of the men who led the club in between. To put his achievement into perspective, Ajax had not won the Eredivise championship for seven years before De Boer took over.
He has embraced the heritage of the club, but then he is also steeped in it. His staff include former players, such as his assistant Dennis Bergkamp and coach Wim Jonk, who along with De Boer are the technical heart of the club, devising the coaching strategy for every age group including the senior sides, as well as Bryan Roy and Jaap Stam. Marc Overmars is the sporting director, while Edwin van der Sar is the marketing director. The ethos is to combine players who understand the history and traditions of the club with experts in administration, commerce and business, but the overriding motivation for De Boer has been to return the football operation to its former principles.
The squad that travels to Glasgow this week will reflect entirely the manager's interpretation of how Ajax should work. "We know if we want to survive, we have to generate new players," De Boer said. The likes of Viktor Fischer, Ricardo van Rhijn, Stefano Denswil, Joel Veltman and Davy Klaassen have all graduated from the youth set-up and established themselves in and around the first team. They are schooled in the Ajax way, but even that has been overhauled by De Boer.
The demise of the Amsterdam club, at least from the heights of the young, home-grown side who stormed to the summit of European football, can be traced to the manager who guided the likes of De Boer and his brother, Ronald, Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids, Michael Reiziger and Clarence Seedorf to the European Cup in 1995. It was Van Gaal who remodelled the style of football pioneered by Michels to suit the contemporary game, but he also changed the ethos of the club's training methods. To Van Gaal, Ajax had to be a collective in every way, so players were no longer treated as individuals as they developed; everything was unified and rigid.
The diminishment of Ajax to a club from the second tier of the European game is often blamed on the Bosman ruling, since so many of the players who won the European Cup then left on free transfers, but the truth was that there were no replacements of sufficient ability coming through the youth ranks. De Boer has encouraged the restoration of individualised training regimes, as part of an overall focus on technique, game intelligence, passing and speed, so the squad can be replenished from within.
It is breaking into the European elite that is now De Boer's aim. There have been notable successes - not least defeating Manchester City 3-1 in Amsterdam in October last year - but inexperience has also contributed to blunt defeats, such as the 4-0 loss to Barcelona in this year's competition. De Boer still rails against the penalty that Mario Balotelli won to allow AC Milan to secure a 1-1 draw in their other Group H tie, but he had already addressed the notion that his young players may feel a sense of inferiority in the Champions League, using the former volleyball coach Peter Murphy to work on the mentality of his squad. "We want to move forward in Europe playing attractive football. If we succeed, I'm convinced we can achieve something," De Boer said.
The team ethic is such that in each of Ajax's title-winning seasons, no player has scored more than 13 goals. De Boer is also prepared to learn and adapt - he is widely described as a committed student - and after the team suffered 28 muscle injuries during one campaign, he changed the intensity of training. The following season, there were only seven muscle injuries among his squad. Training is also structured so the players are at their peak in the final months of the season, which explains in part results such as the 4-0 loss to PSV Eindhoven which Neil Lennon watched first-hand last month.
Ajax are growing strong again under De Boer, though. The Champions League continues to thwart his ambitions, but he remains adamant that his side can move beyond the group stages this season.